Customer Communities,Online Customer Communities

Social Media Communities

20 Sep , 2009  

About a week ago John Moore @JohnFMoore put his stake in the ground on what Social Support Communities are in the arena of Social CRM. His definition centres around their purpose of conversation around dealing Support questions, for example the Dell Support Site. This got me thinking about what Lithium and Helpstream o.a. actually do, and I believe they cover can a far wider purpose.

A couple of days ago I stumbled on an excellent piece of out-of-the-box thinking (and rant) called ‘the hughtrain’, first started in 2004 in response to ‘the cluetrain’. What stuck was what Hugh MacLeod described as ‘Social Objects’. (The Guardian’s Kevin Anderson has a nice synopsis of Jaiku Founder, Jyri Engstrom’s “Social Objects” idea).

The main idea is that people use Social Objects (not necessarily limited to physical object, but they can be ideas, faith, culture, events, activities such as bowling etc…) as a way to socialize, which is an ingrained basic human need. Quote: “The interesting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the conversations that happen around them”.

To take this back to our Social Media Communities discussion, we can find some excellent examples such as iRobot and Barnes & Noble Review. The brand provides a convenient platform where people passionate about their Social Objects can gather and exchange (and salivate) over them. Think of the Star Wars franchise – every guy in the world would probably want to be Luke Skywalker. Put a plastic Light Sabre in his  hands and there is a good chance he will start swashbuckling whilst making the characteristic ‘zoom-zoom’ sounds ;). Star Wars is a shared Social Object to which people can relate and start conversing about.

By implementing Social Objects Communities and offering incentives for people to gather there – such as exclusive content, or just lively discussions – around which they can socialize, the brand has an opportunities to exchange with a captive, passionate audience and better understand their needs.

Below I will quote John Moore’s definitions, and add my comments on Social Objects Communities. Many points overlap of course but there is one main difference, one that offers a tremedous opportunity for improving brand equity.

Social Support Communities are not Social CRM [and neither are Social Objects Communities (SOC)…]

  • SSC is a discussion group, a forum, on steroids.So is SOC
  • SSC incorporates social networks as additional channels through which customer conversations can occur. Same goes for SOC
  • SSC enables customers to directly converse with other customers.  Companies and partners can also be equal participants in this conversation, but are often playing the role of moderators in the examples provided by the webinar participants. Again, same thing
  • SSC is a small subset of Social CRM, a very small subset. Ditto
  • SSC focuses on the customer almost exclusively, ignoring in large part, other participants in the marketplace including the company, partners, and competitors. Same thing
  • SSC focuses on customer support services.  It fails to provide value in marketing, sales, finance, or other aspects where CRM is utilized. Hold on, this is the main differentiator!

Barnes & Noble Review is a great  example where Social Objects Communities provides value in marketing and sales. The content is rich, it has a very positive effect on B&N’s image, and average customer spend is increased for participants in the Review as compared to visitors that only go to the webstore. Nike+ is another example where add-on sales are generated by selling enabling gadgets that allow you to share and compare your ‘Nike’ experience with others.

The other ‘pierre à l’édifice’ that I would like to add is the notion of Hosted and Non-Hosted Social Media Communities. Hosted implies that the brand manages the platform on which the community they can hang out (. The advantage to a non-hosted community is that it is easier to monitor and analyse behaviour and provide for the needs of the community (define the respone). In theory this monitoring could be done on non-hosted communities as well, but the data gathered will be less rich and less useful for understanding the customers.

Whilst SSC focuses on dealing with the ‘unpleasant’ side of unmet expectations (‘I have a problem, how do I get it fixed without wasting too much of my time’),  Social Objects Communities have a whole different purpose and can be a tremendous opportunity for engaging with and responding to the community – for Brand Marketing in particular. Help people express their passion, understand what makes them tick and add value to the conversation as an equal.

3 Responses

  1. smoothspan says:

    Mark, I like your posting. I think there are some good insights for B2C, although B2B Social CRM thinks about it quite a bit differently.

    I can’t speak for Lithium, but these definitions are why I’ve consistently said Helpstream is not an SSC.

    When we bandy about things like ignoring company, partners, and competitors, or failing to provide value marketing, sales, finance, and other areas where CRM is utilized, that’s just not a good description of what we do or how our customers use the product. That’s not to say there aren’t SSC-like products and uses of Social out there, just that it’s not us.

    For example, when you take a look at our customer list and consider how many are companies that make marketing software, you’d have to at least suspect those guys know how to do marketing with a Social CRM product like ours, and you’d be right. You heard some of it on the Chasm webinar.

    Same with partners. For example, we actively partner with Oracle and Salesforce, and I can assure you we use our own Social CRM to facilitate that. Many of our customers as well as Helpstream itself actively use our product to facilitate professional services in some unique and powerful ways.

    In fact, all of those constituents mentioned as ignored are not only recognized, but they are active participants for most of our customers, and they’re all deriving value from that Social ecosystem. As a matter of fact, we’ll be working our way in our Social CRM blog series through how each and every group benefits and can leverage Social CRM. I think you’ll find our post next week on the “Virtuous Cycle” starts to shed quite a lot of light on how this is done.



  2. […] SSC is the present.  SSC will enable you to reduce operational cost and increase revenues via cross-selling opportunities that arise during support situations.  These benefits are clearly documented and cannot be ignored.  Others are beginning to go down the SSC path with me, as I saw Mark Tamis recently blog here. […]

  3. […] members can discuss doing business as Small/Medium-sized companies (Running a Small Business is a Social Object too). There are many pitfalls when starting a company, and sometimes it is good to exchange […]